For a few months in 2010, Philip James ’05 was CEO of two online wine powerhouses, Snooth and Lot18.
Snooth, which James founded in 2006, had taken flight as the largest wine social networking site, with millions of reviews of hundreds of thousands of wines. Lot18, offering a curated selection of artisanal wines, was launching and already raising money. Millions in venture capital would later flow in from the likes of Accel Partners and NEA.
“Very quickly, Lot18 became more than a full-time job,” James says. By March of 2011, the company surpassed $1 million in monthly transactions. It grew from six employees in 2010 to more than 60 today based in New York, California, and France.
Lot18 combines the spirit of old world auctions — where consumers were able to bid on rare finds at great prices — with 21st-century efficiency. A team of procurement experts selects wines from around the world for their superior taste and value; each product is then available on the site for a limited time. Once you plug in your zip code, Lot18 will determine which wines can be shipped to you legally — “navigating an incredibly complicated infrastructure of state regulations,” says James.
“We’re connecting boutique quality wineries — those that are often crowded out by big brands — directly with consumers,” says James, “and helping consumers navigate an industry that can be notoriously confusing and intimidating. Helping people on both sides is the most satisfying thing.”
It’s time to change an antiquated distribution network. “We hope to create an industry where the quality of the product — rather than its fragmented availability — drives sales.”
Look out for orange wines. “Winemakers are starting to make white wines like red wines; if you leave a white wine in contact with the grape skin for a long time, it actually ends up a very deep orange hue. They have a lot more complexity. It’s a new piece of the market.”
Illustration by Scotty Reifsnyder